Shuler values lessons from football

The path to becoming a member of Congress can be long and not always direct. For many, it will invariably include at least one non-political career along the way. According to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most senators (59 percent) and House members (38 percent) start out as lawyers. But while this is the most common way to get to the House and Senate, it is by no means the only way.

Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio)worked in a funeral home prior to running for Congress. Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) was the guitarist and songwriter in the pop band Orleans, which had a string of hit singles in the 1970s (including “Still the One” and “Love Takes Time”). And Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) worked as a special agent in the FBI.

And then there’s Rep. Heath Shuler. The North Carolina Democrat kicked off his football career as a quarterback at the University of Tennessee, leaving after his junior year to fulfill his childhood dream: pursuing a career as a professional football player. “In the fifth grade,” Shuler says, “I made a list of goals, and playing in the NFL was on that list.”

Within short order he was drafted to play for the Washington Redskins, and later signed up to play with the Oakland Raiders and the New Orleans Saints (where he was captain), before his athletic career was cut short by an injury.

Looking for a new direction off the field, Shuler went back to college to finish his studies and get his degree. After being involved in several projects within charity and civic engagement, he was encouraged by community leaders to run for Congress.

What convinced him to actually run, he says, was an encounter with a single mom who had lost her job at the local textile factory and was struggling to feed herself and her children. “Too many of my neighbors were losing their jobs due to plant closings,” Shuler says. “One of the top reasons why I ran for Congress was to help save the jobs of hardworking Americans and rebuild American manufacturing.”

Now in his second term as a member of the House, Shuler acknowledges that his football career has had a positive impact on his political career and prepared him for the job. “It taught me a number of important lessons about teamwork and perseverance,” he says.

In high school, Shuler’s football coach warned him early on about excessive media attention, warning him that “you will never be as good as they make you out to be and you will never be as bad as they make you out to be.”

Shuler took this advice to heart and says it has helped guide him through the hardships of his college and NFL career, and as he navigates the halls of power in his current role as a member of Congress.